Editorial: Your country needs you - but should it be asking?

24th October 2014 at 01:00

Teachers, you've never been so popular. Both deputy prime minister Nick Clegg and education secretary Nicky Morgan want your views on reducing workload, and social mobility tsar Alan Milburn wants your help in closing the gap between rich and poor. Oh, and while you're at it, can you make sure pupils brush their teeth properly?

Is there a catch? Of course there is. There's an election looming and the public sector vote is important. However, workload is a huge problem for the profession, so any interest in how to solve it should be welcomed by even the most cynical teacher.

The response to stagnating social mobility neatly answers the question as to why workload is such a problem. Inequality is undoubtedly one of this country's most important issues. But piling the pressure on schools and adding to their already considerable burden is not the answer.

Teachers, who care deeply about the achievements of their pupils whatever background they come from, are now being faced with a proposed bundle of punishing educational targets, as well as a toughened-up inspection process, to help close the gap between rich and poor.

Mr Milburn makes no apologies for this increased burden: "That's what schools are there for," he says firmly. To "make sure they produce rounded citizens", with good exam results and well-developed characters. No argument there, but why should all this rounding be done only by schools? Is no one else expected to take responsibility?

The relationship between schools and society is an uneasy one. Society seems to think that schools can and should cure all its ills and yet, according to the most recent Teaching and Learning International Survey (Talis), 75 per cent of teachers believe they are undervalued by the community. There's a good reason for this. Schools cannot solve society's problems - that is the government's job.

Teachers can support children with the necessary tools and time but they should not be expected to take on the role of social worker, parent and architect of social change. Asking them to do so is an abdication of collective responsibility.

Take the case of the headteacher at one of the 21 Birmingham schools to be inspected as part of the "Trojan Horse" inquiry. Ofsted reported that some pupils lacked confidence discussing different types of families and relationships. The headteacher's solution was a sensible one: introduce a respected and city council-backed programme, Challenging Homophobia in Primary Schools (Chips). Parents, however, who did not understand the wider curriculum that schools are tasked with teaching, disagreed aggressively and the police had to be called.

The assimilation of immigrant communities into our own is a national issue, a government issue. It is not fair for school staff to be placed on the front line and then, when problems occur, be asked to slap a sticking plaster of British values on to a deep wound. Teachers have a vital job to do, and at its core it is about inculcation, not integration; erudition, not dentition.

If ministers really want to help reduce teachers' workload, then stop asking them to do other people's jobs and let them get on with their own.



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